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Minshall playing mas in Germany

By Terry Joseph
March 05, 2004

"This year
after Carnival
heading for north
Right there,
up in Germany
That's where,
I am bound to be
Ah goin' with a mission,
my only intention
is preaching carnival
I just have the feeling
We should be spreading
This creole bacchanal."

("Mas in Germany")

Today, some 30 years after calypso's Grandmaster Kitchener outlined a rationale in the verses and chorus of "Mas in Germany", a high-powered Trini contingent representing varied treatments of Carnival's performance arts opens a 13-day festival production in Hamburg; simply titled "Play Mas".

Produced by Trinidad-born Dr Patricia Alleyne-Dettmers, a linguistic anthropologist and Carnival scholar attached to the University of Hamburg, the production involves performances, readings, lectures and workshops, featuring Pamberi Steel Orchestra, Tony Hall's Lord Street Theatre, novelist Earl Lovelace (The Dragon Can't Dance), calypso from 3 Canal and both Minshall's perspectives and the mas itself.

The fundamental work reflects the import of Dr Alleyne- Dettmers' thesis, Jump, Jump and Play Mas, the result of researching Trinidad Carnival for some ten seasons, both as native masquerader and professional anthropologist. As a Fellow in the Department of Sociology and Social Policy at the Roehampton Institute, London (1995), she was commissioned to develop and compile a publicly accessible National Carnival Database of textual and visual information.

Dr Alleyne-Dettmers well understands the contextual shift involved in importing a Carnival microcosm into alien cultures and the compilation of influences that impact the evolution of the Mother Carnival (Trinidad and Tobago) and consequently, other fledgling or well-established festivals based on the Trini model.

In a paper delivered in London in 2000, she writes: "Through an on-going process of deconstruction and innovation on various motifs left by the diverse ancestors of the colonial past-African, Asian, European and even Hispanic-Carnival designers have begun to challenge the boundaries between Carnival arts and politics to provide a liberating substance as blacks continually struggle for recognition, selfhood, and a sense of cultural meaning in their lives."

In teaching Germans about Carnival, therefore, she approaches the subject from a much broader perspective than merely presenting individual festival components and combining them in flight. And while Trini Carnival is the centrepiece, the programme will also take in festival excerpts and performances from other cultures.

The 13-day junket involves performances by groups from six countries, the Trini contingent sharing the stage at Fabrik Theatre with artistes from South Africa, India, Argentina and the host country. Their audiences will be mainly young persons being introduced to Carnival concepts. Part of the Pamberi contribution, for instance, will be steelband history, in which band members will walk through the evolution of the instrument, from tamboo-bamboo to dustbin to pan.

Tony Hall, who produced Carnival Friday's Canboulay Riot re-enactment in Duke Street, Port of Spain, will show street-theatre, while Lovelace will do readings from his works and speak on the social aspects of the festival.

Minshall is scheduled to talk on costuming and present examples of his work.

The 1,200-seater Fabrik, a former garment factory originally built in the 19th century, was turned into a state-of-the art theatre in 1971 and has made a name for itself as a place of unique atmosphere, hosting varied styles of presentation, ranging from rock, jazz and classical music concerts, to theatre, readings to political events. It will host Trini pan for the first time.

The group returns to Trinidad on March 15.

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